Secret Recording Broke Open Joyce Yost Murder Case
May 4, 2021, 10:10 PM | Updated: 11:28 pm
SOUTH OGDEN, Utah — An audio recording that captured a killer’s unwitting confession and broke open a murder case after years of inaction is coming to light in the latest episode of the KSL podcast COLD.
The recording was the pivotal piece of evidence that confirmed what police had believed for years, but which they’d been unable to prove: Douglas Lovell had murdered Joyce Yost to prevent her from testifying against him in a 1985 sexual assault case.
“I committed a first-degree felony to cover another felony. It’s the death penalty,” Lovell said on the recording.
Only a few snippets of the recording have previously been shared publicly, presented as evidence in court to establish Lovell’s guilt. Those clips clearly showed Lovell understood the gravity of what he’d done, as well as the consequences if he were to be convicted.
“I premeditated,” Lovell said. “I planned to end Joyce’s life. That’s premeditated capital homicide.”
The more than hour-long recording also includes many other revealing passages that have never before been made public. COLD obtained a complete copy of the recording by way of a public records request. It is featured in the newly-released sixth episode of the podcast’s second season.
Doug Lovell’s Paranoia
Lovell’s ex-wife, Rhonda Buttars, made the recording on behalf of police during a visit to the Utah State Prison on June 16, 1991. It revealed Lovell as a man who was, at the time, confident he could not be convicted of Yost’s murder unless police found her body. Lovell was also paranoid his ex-wife might turn against him.
“I want to know straight up,” Lovell asked Buttars, “if, you know, worse gets bad, I mean, and it could get heavy Rhonda, are you gonna ever testify against me?”
Lovell and Buttars were married but separated at the time Lovell raped and kidnapped Joyce Yost. Buttars divorced Lovell in 1989, after he lost an appeal of his conviction and sentence in the sexual assault case.
Buttars began cooperating with South Ogden police detective Terry Carpenter in April of 1991, providing an account of how her former husband had crept into Yost’s apartment on the night of August 10, 1985 and killed her.
Buttars did not respond to COLD’s request for an interview. She’d told police in April of 1991 that Lovell had taken Yost “up by Causey” Reservoir, stomped on Yost’s neck and then left her body there. Yost’s remains have never been located.
No-Body Homicide Investigation
Carpenter had first visited Lovell at the Utah State Prison in May of 1991, less than a month before the wire recording. At that time, Carpenter had told Lovell he was working to secure a capital homicide charge against him, but would be willing to take the death penalty off the table if Lovell cooperated and returned Yost’s remains.
“When Carpenter was down here, one of the first things he talked about was, he says, ‘Doug, we want to get the body back to the family,’” Lovell said to Buttars in the later recording. “They have no body.”
In the weeks that followed Carpenter’s visit, Lovell made repeated phone calls to Buttars. Recordings of those phone calls, also obtained by COLD, show Lovell was concerned someone might have shared incriminating information with police. Lovell urged Buttars to visit him at the prison so they could speak about the issue in private.
A Private Conversation
Buttars wore two separate microphones during the prison visit. One, concealed in a bra strap, included a transmitter that allowed Carpenter to monitor the conversation in real time. The second microphone was connected to a recording device strapped to Buttars’ thigh.
Buttars met Lovell in a visiting area on the prison grounds. Carpenter watched, unnoticed by Lovell, from a second-floor observation area.
“I’m able to be up above them and looking down into the room that they’re in,” Carpenter said during an April 2021 interview. “There’s a couple of times that Doug would try to put his arm around her and she’d slap his arm away and he’d try to reach over and put his arm on her leg and she’d slap it away.”
The audio captured by the recording device was at times muffled or obscured by the sound of children using nearby playground equipment. Portions, including one in which Lovell appears poised to mention the location of Yost’s body, remain unintelligible even after advanced audio filtering and noise reduction.
The recorder did accurately capture portions of the conversation where Lovell described lying to his therapist, attempting to plant a seed of doubt that someone else might have killed Yost on his behalf.
He also told Buttars he’d conceded he would not win an appeal of his conviction for having sexually assaulting Yost.
“I’m guilty,” Lovell said. “I’ve accepted that. I’m never going to have a new trial and I’m never going to get out on that.
Lovell at the time believed changes at the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole would provide him an opportunity to eventually leave custody without having to answer questions about Yost’s suspected murder.
“Even though a lot of people suspect that I had something to do with Joyce’s disappearance, when I go in front of the board they can never ask me about that,” Lovell said.
Rhonda Buttars’ Deception
Buttars repeatedly told Lovell she feared she might be arrested in connection with Yost’s disappearance. This was a ploy, as she had already received a promise of immunity in exchange for her cooperation.
Lovell attempted to reassure Buttars by promising to have his family pay her bail if she were arrested, even offering to use money from his recently deceased mother’s life insurance policy if necessary.
“I don’t care if the bail’s $50,000 or $100,000,” Lovell said. “We’ll get you out.”
Buttars told Lovell the situation reminded her of her previous arrest. South Ogden police had in March of 1986 picked Buttars up on a poaching warrant. They had questioned her at that time about the Joyce Yost case. She had maintained she knew nothing about it.
“I wish you wouldn’t have talked to them ‘cause what you said to them then has got to stick now,” Lovell said.
Listen to the Full Episode
Season 2 of the COLD podcast will take you inside the no-body homicide investigation triggered by Yost’s disappearance. Audio tapes never before made public will allow you to hear Yost, in her own voice, describe the events which preceded her death.
You will learn why police suspected one man, Douglas Lovell, yet were unable to arrest him at the time. And you will see how some individuals and institutions gave — and continue to give — Lovell every opportunity to evade the ultimate penalty.
Hear Joyce Yost’s voice for the first time in the COLD podcast season 2, available to listen free on Amazon Music.
Free resources and help with sexual abuse are available 24/7 at RAINN.org. You can also call 800-856-HOPE (4673).